History of the Humble Toothbrush
What have the banyan tree, Siberian boar hair, Badger bristle, Porcupine Quill, soot, baking soda, horsetail have all got in common?
They’ve all been involved in mankinds attempt to clean their teeth. At various stages throughout time people have tried different methods for cleaning their teeth and maintaining oral hygiene.
The earliest recorded toothbrush was made in 300bc and was a chewstick a twig with a frayed end. As en effective implement still in use in many parts of the world people still usethis method to clean their teeth. A twig is chewed until its end is frayed and this frayed end then used to brush the teeth.
The History of the Toothbrush
In China, Monks used to clean their teeth using an ox bone handle tethered with horsetail bristles. It has also been recorded by travelers to China around 1498 that the hogs hair was used with a bone or bamboo handle to brush teeth.
In India, generations have used ( and still use) the neem twig that has antiseptic and medicinal properties as a chewable toothbrush that helps to keep the teeth white and eradicates bad microbes. The neem twig and Banyan twig are considered as oral hygiene appliances in Ayurvedic Medicine.
In the Arabic World the same principle has been used with Arak or Sewak twigs. They are still available as toothbrushes.
In order to clean the teeth people have used rags coated with soot or salt ( yech!) and baking soda ( Sodium Bicarbonate ) has also been used to make teeth whiter. Baking soda is still used in certain toothpastes like Arm & Hammer.
Hair today, Gone Tomorrow!
The credit for inventing the earliest version of the modern toothbrush for commercial purposes goes to Englishman William Addis of Clerkenwald, England in 1780. The idea came to him when he was in jail for rioting! He fashioned a small animal bone bored some holes and inserted bristles and used it to brush his teeth after getting tired of soot and salt. Not unlike the Chinese Monks.
On his release from jail, he mass produced this invention and died a very wealthy man.
By the mid 19th century toothbrush was sold across England, France and Germany and it was mainly made of bone or wooden handles fixed with hog hair ( cheap) or badger hair ( expensive) versions!
In the USA although it was patented first in 1857 by H.N. Wadsworth mass production only began in 1885 using Siberian boar bristle. Poor Siberian Boars!
We Want Nylon!
People were fed up animal hair as it fell out, got caught between teeth and generally smelt awful after a few weeks of use as it retained the bacteria.
DuPont de Nemours in 1938 patented the first plastic toothbrush using Nylon bristles called Prolon. They went on sale and immediate replaced the smelly older versions. It was called 'Doctor West's Miracle Toothbrush'
No worldwide the toothbrush inhabits billions of households in various shape of form. One of the greatest modern inventions for mass production. The newer electric versions called Broxodent were first invented in Switzerland in 1954 by Squibb. This company is now Bristol-Myers -Squibb.
Rip, Slip, Brush Ahh!
- There have been other versions that failed in between like this one with attached toothpaste not unlike the electric razor with face cream!
- While the rest of the world spends a small fortune on modern toothbrushes, the humble twig is still being used as a viable alternative.
- It has been recommended by dentists that a toothbrush be kept at least 6 feet (two meters) away from a toilet to avoid airborne particles resulting from the flush!
- Toothpaste has been in use in India and China as far back as 500BC
- The Roman's liked a bit of grit in their toothpaste and used Oyster shells and crushed bark!
- A lot of people in the world use their finger to brush their teeth. Ancient Egyptians did the same using a powder made of pumice, bunt eggshells, and ground oxen hooves!
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Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2011
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